The Nun 2 Is Short on Terror But Long on Fun
The Nun 2 isn’t terrifying at all. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But let’s be clear, the sequel to the 2018 hit featuring the demon Valak has its moments. It has jump scares, eerie shots, and some requisite demonic murder, but if you’re a horror film veteran, The Nun 2 is pretty tame. Then again, the whole Conjuring Universe in general is actually quite light and that’s actually the best thing about it. The cornerstone of James Wan’s horror universe is actually the ghostbusting, demon-vanquishing duo of Ed and Lorraine Warren who, unless Wan decides to truly subvert expectations and shock the world, emerge victorious every time.
The Warrens don’t figure prominently in The Nun 2 which is set in 1956, four years after the events of the first film and decades before the Conjuring series. They merely appear as a bonus for fans in the mid-credits scene because mid- or post-credits stingers are now de rigueur for shared universe storytelling. Instead, our hero is Sister Irene, who helped vanquish Valak the first time around. She’s played to perfection by Taissa Farmiga, sister of Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren. It’s nepo casting that’s sort of meta because it actually fits the narrative.
Also back is Maurice aka Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the devilishly handsome handyman who unknowingly hosts a demon. At the end of The Nun, the demon Valak (Bonnie Aarons) escapes into Frenchie to guarantee continued mischief in the Conjuring series and, thanks to box-office success, in the actual sequel. Father Burke (Demián Bichir) is gone, dead of cholera, but Sister Irene has a new bestie at her new convent, truant Sister Debra (Storm Reid), who assists when the Vatican summons her to investigate a spate of suspiciously demonic deaths sweeping across Europe.
It quickly becomes apparent that Valak is back, turning Frenchie into some sort of supernatural serial killer on the hunt for a holy relic that will give them superpowers. The Conjuring Universe is James Wan’s answer to the MCU. Although Ed and Lorraine Warren are the good guys, the real stars of the show are the villains, from crooked men of nursery rhymes to crazy ass witches to possessed dolls, the Conjuring Universe is great because its villains are great. And Valak, the demon nun, is their Thanos.
Valak subverts the image of the saintly, kindly nun into one of pure evil. It works because nuns are a mysterious lot compared to the more visible and sometimes scandal-embroiled priesthood. In a way, it’s actually blasphemy. The horror genre has been subverting religious, particularly Catholic, iconography for ages, so while a demon nun is creepy, it’s also par for the course. So we line up for tickets, get some thrills, and go on with our day. On the other hand, a drag queen cosplaying Jesus and rocking it out to a straight man’s remix of Ama Namin is a national scandal. Cue the religious outrage. Now that’s scary. It’s also selective, much like Valak’s killing spree.
For a powerful demon who can levitate humans in the air and burn them alive, Valak exercises a tremendous amount of restraint. You’d think a demon would have a higher body count, but the villains in the Conjuring Universe are generally more content being creepy than homicidal. A majority of Valak’s kills are simply mentioned with an accompanying photograph, although there are enough on-screen deaths to keep audiences on their toes. One victim, in particular, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, a completely unnecessary kill that didn’t quite feel right but demons gonna demon and Valak is as demonic as they come.
That said, the best parts of The Nun 2 aren’t the deaths, anyway. The Conjuring Universe isn’t Final Destination and Valak isn’t Jason or Freddy. No, the coolest parts of The Nun 2 are the creepy moments in the dark, where your mind fills in the blanks, and director Michael Chaves makes clever use of a roving flashlight to build tension. Chaves, who directed two previous Conjuring Universe films, relies on mysteries off-camera and the now iconic face and silhouette of The Nun to deliver the scares. When Sister Irene finds herself in front of a magazine stand with a display that supernaturally starts flipping pages to form the nun’s silhouette, sure it’s creepy but it’s equally clever and cool.
Sister Irene also happens to be one of the most compelling heroes in horror, The Nun 2 cementing her stature as a force to be reckoned with. Taissa Farmiga is delightful, exuding a charming innocence that contrasts and counters Valak’s sinister aura. Sister Irene had some romantic tension with the strapping Frenchie in the first film and they reprise the schoolgirl cuteness in a flashback where the two go their separate ways. But Sister Irene is all business this time around, discovering something about her heritage that seems set to impact the Conjuring Universe moving forward. Valak is terrific, but Sister Irene is a star. A buddy cop — or sister act — television series with Farmiga and the underused Storm Reid as a couple of globetrotting nuns vanquishing demons would fill the void left by Supernatural.
The Nun 2 is best when it leave audiences to imagine and dread. Its least frightening parts are when the monsters take on physical form. There’s an inexplicable and wholly unnecessary appearance by a hairy, goat-like demon that chases school children like a costumed freak in a horror house that’s just as harmless. It detracts from the menace of Valak, who’s supposed to be an unholy heavyweight. Still, the Nun 2 is a healthy reminder that, barring demonic entities taking on nun form, the things that frighten (or offend) us most are figments of our imagination.
The Nun 2 is now showing in cinemas nationwide.